Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research

Unconscious Meanings in the Workplace: Second international conference on Work Discussion


Work Discussion is a method of learning, teaching and research developed at the Tavistock Clinic in London from 1967. It was initially an application of psychoanalytic infant observation, giving participants opportunities to reflect on situations at work at which they are active participants, as well as attentive observers. This form of learning now has a significant presence in many locations for psychoanalytically-based learning, for example in Austria, Italy, France, Argentina, Taiwan, China and Britain. It is a practice which invites reflection on the meaning of interactions in a variety of work settings, including teaching and education, early years’ provision, nursing, mental health care, youth and community work, social work and the creative therapies.

Work Discussion is a significant element in the curriculum of several professional trainings and in the continuing development of experienced staff members, leaders and managers, including social work. It is significant in the education of psychotherapists and psychoanalytic organisational consultants. In fact, there are no obvious limits to the organisational settings for which the exploration of unconscious personal and social dynamics are not relevant.

Work Discussion (2008) - edited by Margaret Rustin and Jonathan Bradley (Karnac) - was the first book on the subject; a subsequent book, Social Defences against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm, edited by David Armstrong and Michael Rustin (Karnac 2014) gave several examples of the method as a means of reflecting on and understanding anxieties in different organisational contexts.

The application of observational methods to organisations are described in Robert Hinshelwood and Wilhelm Skokstad’s book: Observing Organisations: Anxiety, Defence and Culture in Health Care (2002), in Observation in Health and Social Care: Applications for Learning, Research and Practice with Children and Adults, edited by Clare Parkinson, Lucille Allain and Helen Hingley-Jones (2017), and Andrew Cooper’s Conjunctions: Social Work, Psychoanalysis and Society (2018). All are relevant to the field.

Two symposia of papers given at the first International Conference on Work Discussion in Vienna will shortly appear in the International Journal of Infant Observation. Further publications are expected to arise from the proceedings of this conference.

The Conference will follow the Vienna precedent in arranging Work Discussion Seminars as part of its programme. In these, Work Discussion reports will be presented to small seminar groups and discussed by facilitators, presenters, and members. This proved to be a much appreciated element of the Vienna conference programme.

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Lewes is the next town along from Falmer where the University is located and easily and quickly accessible by both bus and train 

For more details about this event, contact G.Ruch@sussex.ac.uk.